Carling Cup: Birmingham v Reds – confirmed team

Rafael Benitez has again named Robbie Fowler captain for the night, again in the Carling Cup. Captain Steven Gerrard didn't travel for the game tonight against Birmingham at St Andrew's and vice-captain Jamie Carragher has been named on the bench.

Jermaine Pennant gets the nod for the right-wing against his old club, as expected, and Craig Bellamy is fit again to line up in attack alongside Fowler in attack.

Liverpool: Dudek, Warnock, Agger, Paletta, Peltier, Sissoko, Zenden, Pennant, Gonzalez, Bellamy, Fowler.
Subs: Martin, Kuyt, Alonso, Carragher, Guthrie.

Continue reading Carling Cup: Birmingham v Reds – confirmed team

Liverpool wary of revenge for FA Cup thrashing

Liverpool’s march towards their capture of the FA Cup last season included their best-ever away win in the competition, against Birmingham City. Since that 7-0 victory opponents Birmingham have been relegated from the top flight and now face the Reds again, this time in the Carling Cup. Nobody is expecting a repeat, and in fact in many ways Liverpool are wary of a deep desire for revenge from the Midlands side, who’ve also won all of their last five games.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez describes tonight’s tie as “tough”, and he says he’s called on winger Jermaine Pennant to help out by revealing any extra information about his former club. Rafa said: “This Birmingham game will not be like last season, it will be a very tough game. It will be different players this time and not the same situation as last season. I have spoken to Jermaine Pennant about the game and he believes Birmingham really want to do well this time. They want to win and will approach the game intent on staying in the competition.”

Rafa points out that a team struggling in the league last season were low on confidence, but this season that’s turned around thanks to their good league form one division lower: “It will be a different kind of game. They are doing well in the Championship and it will be much tougher than last season when they were in a difficult position in the Premier League.”

Liverpool won’t be sending a full-strength squad for this game, Rafa choosing to rest many of the first team squad ahead of the Arsenal game in the league on Sunday. He’s hoping that Birmingham will also be prioritising tonight’s match in a similar way: “Maybe they will be thinking of revenge and the last game, but maybe also they will be thinking of their priorities this season, and that must be to get back into the Premier League. It is okay to want to progress in the cups but the league is more important and cup ties can give clubs with smaller squads a lot of problems.”

One of the players being left at home tonight is captain Steven Gerrard, meaning there’s a very good chance of a start for Jermaine Pennant against his old club. Pennant signed this summer after being on the losing end of that 7-0 game in the spring. Rafa was asked what Pennant had been able to reveal about his old club: “I have asked Jermaine about how they will play, which players will be used,” said Rafa. “We know a lot but he will have special knowledge. It is certain that it will be a very difficult game. They press opponents, are physical and good in the air.”

Rafa is hoping that the Birmingham fans appreciate what Pennant did for them during his stay and also why he had to move on: “I hope the Birmingham fans will understand what a good player Jermaine was for their club and that we paid them very good money for him. It was good business for both clubs. Maybe they will not be cheering him but I feel they will appreciate the business and what happened.”

As well as Gerrard, Rafa is leaving Jose Reina, Luis Garcia and Sami Hyypia behind. Pennant should get Gerrard’s place and Jerzy Dudek’s ban is now over meaning he’ll get Reina’s place. Daniel Agger hasn’t played since breaking his hand on international duty last month but is likely to step in for Sami Hyypia. Gabriel Paletta is also included in the party and may get a start ahead of Jamie Carragher. If he does then Robbie Fowler has a good chance of being captain again, and seems likely to line up alongside Craig Bellamy who has recovered from his recent calf injury.

Sami Hyypia sent his team-mates off with a warning about getting rid of any complacency. He said: “The Birmingham lads who played in that Cup tie last season and had to suffer that 7-0 defeat will remember the match and they will be really up for it this time around. They'll be ready for the fight and Steve Bruce will tell them to be more awake than they were last time, when we scored two very quickly. I guess Steve Bruce will be trying everything he can to make sure that doesn't happen again.” Hyypia scored the opener in under a minute that night.

He went on: “Maybe there was some luck in us scoring two so quickly, but we were up for the game and we decided to start very quickly and we got the reward. The whole 90 minutes from then on for us was very good, we scored some excellent goals and never let Birmingham into it. This Carling Cup tie is a totally different game and they will want to make up for last season as well as to progress in the tournament themselves, we know it will be a lot tougher this time around.”

Hyypia has just been named the Player of the Year in Finland, the sixth time he’s won the award in eight years. He’s happy with how Liverpool have defended in their recent games and says that it’s important to keep this going: “We're defending well and keeping another clean sheet at the weekend was really important. When you achieve that then you have a chance of taking something from the game. Clean sheets are great for the whole team and for a keeper's confidence.”

Jose Reina has been the subject of criticism from many this season as part of the inevitable search for a scapegoat for some poor form from the whole team. He’s made some mistakes but made some great and important saves too, and Hyypia wouldn’t hear it that Pepe was lacking confidence: “I wouldn't say that Pepe Reina hasn't been confident because he is a confident lad, but you have to remember that we are only human beings. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes and you just have to keep your head up and do better next time.”

As Sami says, it’s been the whole team, not just one or two: “The start of the season has been strange. Individually we haven't been at the same level as we were last season, but we're getting there and when we get the away form sorted out then I think we're going to go higher and higher.”

Continue reading Liverpool wary of revenge for FA Cup thrashing

Reaction: Liverpool 2 Reading 0

Two goals from Dirk Kuyt at Anfield yesterday saw Liverpool complete their four home games in succession with a 100% success rate and also saw them move into seventh place in the league. Reaction to the game from the scorer of both goals and and the two managers.

Dirk Kuyt: “It was a difficult game because they were defending a lot. Myself and Peter had three defenders on us all the time so I am happy with the result and the two goals for me. But the most important thing is to play well for the team. Then I know the goals will come for me and everyone. The most important thing for me is winning, not how many I score.

“I know people in Holland were doubting I could play here when I joined, but I just intend to give 100% every time and I believe I can play at this level. I did well in Holland, although I accept the pace is much greater in England and the Premier League is a higher level.

“I knew what to expect. I watched the Premier League on television in Holland for many years before I came here. I knew how fast it all was and that it was one of the world's best competitions. I wanted it so much and now I am here and scoring goals. Now I just want to show what I've got. I have settled well, it's getting better and better on and off the field. I love playing at Anfield and I like the city and the people.

“We can still produce more, not only me. I have played three matches on the trot with Peter and that partnership is getting better. It was the same with Craig Bellamy. We were improving together so there are now two partnerships we can use knowing they work well. I can work with both players.

“Things are improving although I know there is still a big gap between us and the top sides. But if we can win at Arsenal next week then things will start to change for us. That will be the big test after four home wins and the bad start we have made in our away games.”

Rafael Benítez: “Dirk is a very good worker. I knew the player when he was at Vitesse Arnhem and Utrecht before he moved to Feyenoord. He always worked hard and scored goals giving defenders a lot of problems, the complete striker. He created much for his team-mates and now his understanding with Peter Crouch is very good and he can also create space for Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso to exploit with their runs. He always works, always makes great effort and shows the right level of commitment. He creates space for others and the partnership with Peter Crouch is working well.

“We have won four at home now but we know this form must be translated into our away form. Since the defeat at Manchester United we know we have done better and scored goals. Now we are away to Birmingham in the Carling Cup and then Arsenal in the league and we know we must improve on our away form.”

“Reading are organised and work hard and I think they are good enough to stay up. We expected five defenders and five across midfield and it was difficult to find space. When we got the second they had to come out and that left us with more chances.”

Reading manager Steve Coppell: “We are trying to bridge a huge gap. Liverpool are a tremendous team with great individuals and two seasons ago they were champions of Europe. At that stage we were in a different division. It is very hard to compete with that sort of quality. We needed to change the system and give us a strong foundation and to make life difficult for them. We had to keep it tight and see what happened, but you need a break, you need to get your noses in front and although we had a couple of chances, it didn't happen for us.

"We know we have lost four on the trot in the league, but I do not think of runs like that. When we started the season we did well but that was probably a coincidence of the fixtures. Now we have lost these last four. That too is a coincidence of the fixtures. We have had Arsenal, Chelsea and now Liverpool in that sequence."

Continue reading Reaction: Liverpool 2 Reading 0

Prem Result: Liverpool 2 Reading 0

FA Barclays Premiership. Result

Liverpool

2 – 0

Reading

Kuyt 14, 72
 (HT: 1-0)

 
25 Reina
3 Finnan
4 Hyypia
23 Carragher
6 Riise
16 Pennant
8 Gerrard
14 Alonso
32 Zenden (11 Gonzalez, 66)
18 Kuyt (9 Fowler, 87)
15 Crouch (22 Sissoko, 74)
 

1 Hahnemann
18 Sodje (22 Bikey, 69)
5 Sonko
16 Ingimarsson
3 Shorey
6 Gunnarsson
(19 Ki-Hyeon, 80)
4 Sidwell
15 Harper (11 Oster, 88)
10 Hunt
7 Little
9 Doyle
40 Martin
5 Agger

9 Fowler


11 Gonzalez


22 Sissoko
 SUBS
32 Federici

11 Oster


19 Ki-Hyeon


22 Bikey

24 Long
   BOOKINGS Sidwell 53
Sodje 64

Attendance: 43741   


Referee:
U Rennie

Continue reading Prem Result: Liverpool 2 Reading 0

Confident Reds need to avoid complacency

The doom and gloom at Anfield that was hovering after the defeat to Manchester United has all but disappeared. The confidence boost that came from three wins in a row and 10 goals scored has banished those clouds. Rather than having to raise the squad morale Rafa now has to be wary of the players becoming too confident. Many of the Liverpool players have been giving interviews this week reflecting that confidence.

Steven Gerrard was on the first, speaking after he scored on Tuesday night in the Champions League win, his first goal of the season. His mood was much improved after that win and goal. He’s had to endure some complete nonsense in the papers linking him with a move away from Anfield because he was unhappy with the boss (that story was hawked around the press by a former Manchester United player and disbelieved by all but the most gullible members of the press). He’s had to endure even worse rumours than the ones the papers printed, all false, all spread with great delight by those who don’t support Liverpool. In the aftermath of that game he spoke about his delight at the goal and also about how tired of the rumours he was. “I know I needed to look at my own performances and I know I need to play better. I needed to find my own form first, but as captain I have to help other players find their best form. The only way this can happen is to take responsibility for yourself and your performances.”

As for those rumours, he finally felt it was time to put his side forward: “I've heard it all, my body language isn't right, there's a problem and I am not happy at the club, I've got problems off the field, my head's not in it. I've heard them all and I'll say now that it is just not the case. I'm a professional footballer and the only thing on my mind when I'm playing is the game.”

His most important sentence of the week was probably this one: “I will be at Liverpool for many years to come and I'm loving every second.”

He said it was no wonder he looked miserable after Liverpool’s last defeat: “Walking away from Old Trafford for instance, having lost 2-0 to Manchester United and having let the supporters and ourselves down while watching United celebrate hurt me. I'm the Liverpool captain, and a Liverpool fan. It's not a time for me to be smiling or chatting to United players because I'm hurting like hell.”

Obviously feeling a great weight had been lifted, he went on: “I've been missing something since the start of the season and I have not had that spark to my game. I think coming back from the World Cup has been a factor. There had to be a reaction from us after the defeat at Old Trafford. And in the last few games you have seen that.”

Getting quite passionate by now, the Reds skipper went on: “What gets me down is losing games and hearing so much rubbish about me. I'm sick of it, the players are sick of it and so is the manager and the fans. I feel really sorry for the fans who have to see the focus put on me again, but what can I do about it? I feel from the reaction of the fans at the Bordeaux game that they are not taking any notice of that stuff any more and that is exactly how I want it to be.”

This spirited talk and the three wins in a row got to Gerrard’s Liverpool and England team-mate, forward Peter Crouch, who is talking about this as being a significant stage in the season. He’s refusing to write of the Reds title chances now: “Perhaps the victory over Bordeaux can be a turning point in the season. Hopefully we can go on a bit of a run. We have always felt we have the quality to win games, now it is a case of showing it. We have fallen behind a touch and got a lot of making up to do but we believe we can do and hopefully we can go out and prove it.”

Winning is obviously better than losing, as Crouch says: “It is enjoyable at the moment as we are scoring goals and the way we are playing. We have kept the same side in two games and played well in both of them but we have a big squad and I am sure the manager will use it. We have certainly been in good form at home and got to take that form away from home. With the players we have, we are certainly capable of doing that.”

Crouch’s confidence is great to hear, but it’s important that he remembers this: “You can do all the talking you want – you have to get results.”

As for the captain, Crouch said: “It was good to see Steve get on target. He brings so much to the team anyway, not just goals. I wouldn't be surprised if he went on a little run.”

Crouch’s fellow front-man Dirk Kuyt is another who’s been revealing the new-found confidence and belief in the squad, saying: “We have scored ten goals in three games, and now we're starting to show our quality. We have a very good team and have showed this over the last few matches. Now we have to go on from here and win the next few games.”

He did remember that those wins only include one league game though: “It's important not only to show we are good in the Champions League, but also the Premiership. We know we have to win more games. After we lost to Manchester United everyone was down and we knew it was important to recover quickly. It's meant a lot to have won the three games since, but we also know that's only three games and we need to do more.”

He went on “We know a difficult start happened, but we've shown in the last three games we have the quality. We had enough chances to score even more on Tuesday, but it was also very important for us to have kept a clean sheet.”

Liverpool’s vice captain Jamie Carragher always keeps his feet on the ground without letting bad times get to him, always looking to spur the team on. He spoke of his delight that his mate Gerrard was off the mark now, which is great for the player and the club: “Stevie is up and running now, and it was a great relief for him to get that goal.  He scored 23 last season, which is tremendous for a midfielder – and it will be difficult to better that. You cannot expect him to repeat it every year, but I am sure he will get into double figures. Stevie was a bit unfortunate before his goal. He had quite a few opportunities but did not hit the target. I know him well and how he would have felt if he had not scored.”

As for the infamous rotation issue, Carra found it funny to see the boss stop short of naming 100 consecutive changed sides: “The manager has his way of doing things and has done an excellent job. It is a bit strange he has gone out on 99. You have a bit of laugh about it. Didn't Mike Atherton go out on 99 a couple of times? He is the manager, he picks the team and the success he has had speaks for itself.”

Carra says that Liverpool’s Champions League performances must now be matched in the league: “We have been really disappointing in the Premier League and not done as well as we have in the Champions League.” Next up is Reading at home, today, Carra’s 300th league appearance, and he wants to see the players focussed: “We just have to concentrate on beating Reading. We are not as high in the table as we would have liked. Reading gave us a bit of a stir in the cup and we are well aware of what they can do. It is going to be a very tough game.”

Rafael Benítez himself said earlier in the season that it would be this month before fans saw the best of Liverpool. The three wins have brought confidence that if tapped correctly will lead to much better performances in every game, home or away. Rafa was glad to talk about this new-found happiness in the squad: “We have won three games this week and scoring goals and that means our players are confident and everyone is talking positively about them. It is now easier for us to show our real level. We have enough quality to win many games in a row.”

Thankfully Rafa is making sure the players don’t assume anything. Their opponents today might be newly-promoted but they aren’t just going to roll over: “Reading are not easy and we have made that clear to the players but we do have confidence. People know we are now playing well and scoring goals, that helps us as we go into matches. Reading are well organised, I know they have lost three league games in succession but they have a good manager and they are a good team. Sometimes when you lose a few games, it can affect your confidence.”

Rafa repeated what he’d said earlier in the season: “I said many times that we would not see the best Liverpool until November and that was because of all the distractions of the World Cup and international breaks stopping players working together and being able to train to the best level.” The boss feels that it’s much easier now to train his players: “We have now won three on the trot and we are hoping for another. We are able to talk and work with the players all the time; these things are important. Sometimes they are all travelling all over Europe and don't see their team mates until the Friday of each week. Now in November I believe we will see the best of Liverpool.”

Today is the last of those four successive league games, and is followed by a trip to Birmingham midweek in the Carling Cup before next weekend’s game at Arsenal. Rafa continued: “Now we hope to beat Reading at Anfield and next week we will start to address why we are not the same in away games. If we can now win three or four more games in a row we will be very close to, or in, the top four.”

Rafa had kind words for Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher: “Maybe not scoring was playing on Stevie's mind, but now he has scored we will see him scoring many, many more times now. Jamie has a fantastic commitment every day in training and in every game he plays. For a manager to see that is brilliant. He is a strong character, he's a winner and he loves football. Physically he is always in the best condition, he trains well and is always fit. When you sign a player you want one who can play 40 to 50 games each season, Carra is that type of player.”

The transformation of Carra under Rafael Benítez has been amazing. He’s always given his all, but it’s Rafa that’s found how to use that enthusiasm for the best: “It is very important for a local boy like Jamie to play a lot of games for his club. I know the fans will be happy, especially because he is a player who always gives 100%. Sometimes even the very best players are not always able to do that, but Carra always plays at his best level. Maybe he will make a mistake but it never worries him because he just continues in the same way. Every manager would want him in their team.”

Rafa has a couple of injury concerns and he revealed that although Craig Bellamy was training normally, this game had come a little too soon for him. Xabi Alonso was injured in the Champions League and Rafa will leave it late before deciding whether or not to use him and Luis Garcia today: “Xabi is fit and available and while Craig is training again I won't risk him against Reading. Mark Gonzalez is fit and available and we will see how Luis Garcia is on Saturday.”

Whoever does play needs to take on board everything they’ve been told about balancing out this new found confidence against the risk of complacency against a side on a poor run who are looking to work hard to bring it to an end.

Continue reading Confident Reds need to avoid complacency

Rafa and Gerrard both put the gossip behind them

Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Bordeaux last night took them through to the last 16 and the knockout phase of the Champions League, with two games to spare. Luis Garcia scored twice but what may prove to be even more important is the one scored by Steven Gerrard. The captain has had a tough season, not always playing to his own level, having to endure numerous false stories both in the press and on the internet, all of which seem to have originated from fans or officials of other clubs. The goal was his first one of this season, and he so desperately needed it. Gerrard’s goals played a big part in Liverpool’s improvement in the league last season.

Gerard played as if he had something to prove last night, and when he was interviewed after the game he was asked about those rumours claiming he was unsettled. Not a bit, said Steven: “You look at my performance tonight, it didn't look unsettled. I will be at Liverpool for many years to come and I'm loving every second.”

He smiled when asked about Rafael Benítez naming an unchanged side after not doing so for the last 99 matches, joking that it was a shock to the players: “He named the side an hour before kick-off and the lads were looking around in astonishment.” He was asked whether he agreed with the rotation policy himself, but wasn’t biting: “Rafa’s the boss; you have to believe in what he says, whatever team he puts out. Our form has been inconsistent and it is up to the players to improve that.”

The boss himself was delighted his captain had got off the mark: “Steven has been searching for that goal. When you have scored 23 one season and it takes a long time in the next campaign to get off the mark, then you do get worried. But he has been playing well and this goal will give him confidence to go on and reclaim his best form now. I believe he will be a lot calmer now.”

Rafa resisted the opportunity to say his own piece on Noel White, the director who went anonymously to the Mirror on Friday to launch an astonishing attack on the Spaniard. The club had released a statement a couple of hours before kick off confirming that White was responsible for that moment of cowardice. Rather than attack White, Rafa chose to draw a line under it all: “It is a pity, I have not had a bad relationship with Noel White and I am sorry this has happened. Now, though, I would prefer to look to the future.”

David Moores had said in the statement that White’s actions weren’t “the Liverpool way” and Rafa agreed: “The important thing is the club, and such things as this do not normally happen here. This is a big club and there is a way of doing things here. But I am sorry that it has had to end this way.”

Now that the Reds have guaranteed qualification, the target in this competition is to win the group and – theoretically – get the better draw for the next round. A victory over PSV Eindhoven in the next game would guarantee that and would mean the final group game against Galatasary was just a formality. According to Benítez, that’s how he’s hoping it pans out: “This is important for us, and it gives us the chance now to go on and win the group in our next match here against PSV Eindhoven. Then we can maybe make changes for the last game and give young players European experience.”

When the game was still 1-0 Liverpool were in control but there was always a fear that Bordeaux could get lucky and get it back to 1-1. Then Fernando Menegazzo got himself sent off. Liverpool had taken a quick free kick and this upset Menegazzo who decided to head-butt John Arne Riise. Menegazzo tried to protest his innocence but Riise was covered in the evidence. Rafa said: “It was a head-butt and you could see the blood. You do not like to see things like that on the pitch – you prefer to talk about good football.”

Rafa’s opposite number at Bordeaux, Ricardo Gomes, said that red card ended his chances. He claimed Liverpool were acting in an unsporting manner and that resulted in – but didn’t justify – the actions of Menegazzo: “The sending off for Fernando was the turning point. We were disappointed that Liverpool raced away from a throw and did not give the ball back to us after a stoppage. That was not fair play, but it was an incident that you cannot condone. In the end it gave Liverpool the extra man and the incentive to go on and win the game. Beforehand, we certainly had a chance of an equaliser.”

Liverpool have now won three games in a row, all at home, and the memories of that defeat to Manchester United ten days ago seem distant now. They’ve scored ten goals in those three games and if they can win the next home game this weekend against Reading they’ll be full of confidence going into their away Carling Cup game against Birmingham next week. A win there could see the start of some long-awaited away form because that confidence will be carried through to the game against Arsenal the following weekend. 

Continue reading Rafa and Gerrard both put the gossip behind them